Illegal border crossings decrease as 2019 winds down

HOUSTON – As the year comes to a close, the number of immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into Texas illegally is dropping.

“The amount of traffic that we’re encountering here daily has gone down significantly,” said U.S. Border Patrol Agent Herman Rivera.

Over the spring and summer, Channel 2 Investigates showed you a border in chaos, where smugglers thrived and tens of thousands of Central American families overwhelmed Border Patrol agents. The crisis peaked in May when more than 140,000 people were caught crossing the border or deemed “inadmissible.” But by the end of November, that number dropped to just over 42,000.

Rivera said one of the biggest factors in the decrease is the implementation of Migrant Protection Protocols. The program started in January and sends Central American immigrants back to Mexico while their asylum claims work through courts. Previously, many immigrants were released into the U.S. while their cases were decided. So far, more than 55,000 immigrants have been sent to Mexico under this program.

“I think it has had a big impact because people are starting to get the word that they’re not being released,” Rivera said. “We’re not releasing you anymore.”

The federal government is also more restrictive of who can apply for asylum. Rivera believes all of this is why there’s been a decrease in families crossing the border and why those caught crossing, don’t simply surrender like they did earlier this year.

“They’re running because they know if they get caught they’re going to get sent back to their country,” Rivera said.

Another factor is a shift in criminal prosecutions.

Ken Magidson, a former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, which covers the border, says in the past, criminal prosecutions were saved for smugglers, drug runners and those who repeatedly entered illegally after being deported. Magidson said typically first-timers weren’t criminally charged.

“They’re much more stringent along the border now in filing criminal prosecutions,” Magidson said.

Attorneys said this crackdown is also being felt in immigration court, where thousands plead their case to remain in the U.S. A Syracuse University database shows more than a million cases pending nationwide with an average wait time of nearly 700 days.